“Memento Mori”: Yun-Fei Tou’s Portraits of Shelter Dogs
Born in 1975, Yun-Fei Tou first encountered the art of photography in 1991, as a student at The American School in Switzerland. In 1998, he graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design with a major in photography. In 2007 and 2008, Yun-Fei Tou received the Golden Tripod Award for Photography, presented by the Government Information Office, Executive Yuan. In 2012, he received the grand prize of Taoyuan Creation Award. His work has been included in a number of solo and group exhibitions held in various venues such as: Kaohsiung Fine Art Museum, Taipei Photo Center, Taiwan Photo Museum, Taiwan International Visual Art Center, National Taiwan University of Arts, and three images from this series were included in 2011 New York Photo Festival “Provocation,” a Jury Invitational Exhibition. “MEMENTO MORI” is one of several long-term projects of Yun-Fei Tou.
“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” – Ghandi
Yun-Fei: “These images record the last moments of life for some dogs found in public shelters run by governmental agencies in Taiwan. These portraits are taken on the very day in which the animal depicted is about to be ‘put down’ or mercifully killed. These images are but a small fraction of the total body of work in this ongoing project.
“Utilizing the classic portrait style that originated in the early 19th century with the birth of photography as an art form, these photographs offer the viewer a chance to look attentively into a bleak future. These dogs are essentially dead and their souls are hours or minutes away from non-existence. These portraits reflect a formal construct or platform through which the viewer and the dog “communicate,” using exchanged gazes to create a forced contemplation.
“Photographic images allow us to contemplate. Through contemplation, we gain an understanding of the uniqueness and nobility of life. Through contemplation, we understand how chaotic and disordered the world has become.
“The moment when a photographer chooses to release the shutter during a shooting session, or when carefully selecting an image from a body of work about the same subject matter, these acts, the releasing of the shutter and the editing of a selection, lead to subjective choices and reveal a bias. In the same token, every viewer has an inborn nature that is unique and possesses personal experiences that also reflect different values. Therefore, when different viewers face the same image, it is inevitable that they produce wide ranges of responses from the minute to radical to drastic differences in sentiment, interpretation, meaning and/or intent.
“However, from the point of view of the subject portrayed in a photograph, these biases, prejudices, and even different sentiments can be perceived as a form of manipulation. It is often times these distortions and/or misinterpretations that offer richness in the various degrees of reality. The photographic image is merely a vehicle of communication that can lead to a better understanding of a situation, an event, of ourselves and of the world around us.
“In viewing these specific images, one looks directly into the eyes of the dog and the dog looks back. These images reflect the last opportunity to look. This is a final and decisive moment. Death is eminent and all that is asked of the viewer is to engage, to recognize the common bonds and to honor the resemblances between our lives.”